During halftime of the Super Bowl, my girlfriend asked me for the identity of the individual who was providing 'analysis' at the moment. She'd already stated earlier that she hated these NFL studio sets, and this individual wasn't doing anything to sway her opinion.
"That's Bill Cowher. He was actually a really good coach."
It didn't matter. It never matters. Cowher and the rest of the guys on these sets have a trove of information to draw on, war stories that none of us could even dream of, but again, it doesn't matter. They revert back to the same clichés, give that tired narrative a little more fluff, then point and yell a little before it's their turn to talk again. It's pointless.
And all this was before the blackout—which, as Drew Magary describes it for Deadspin, showed us "how truly worthless NFL broadcasters are."
This blackout should serve as the turning point, the moment in history when a network executive finally puts his foot down and says: "Why are we doing this? Why do we spend gobs and gobs of money on ex-players and ex-coaches who can't f*cking talk?" What is the point of Dan Marino?...A decade ago, The New York Times estimated that Marino makes $2 million a year from his broadcasting duties. That's $2 million—more than 70 times the median annual wage in America—for nothing.
Deadspin founding editor Will Leitch, now with Sports on Earth, provided several notes on CBS' handling of the blackout—which he called even more embarrassing than the blackout itself—before eventually stating the same cause as Magary:
But the real issue remains the selection of former athletes, chosen for their Q rating and popularity within the NFL itself, as our television hosts in the first place. I'm not sold on Shannon Sharpe's ability to break down a play any better than Mike Tanier or Chris Brown in the first place, but I know he can't kill time without making America's ears bleed. This is, after all, broadcasting, and CBS, in an unforeseeable circumstance that you sort of nevertheless have to have a backup plan for (this being the Super Bowl and all), was left without its pants on the biggest sports day of the year.
He also stated Jim Nantz and Phil Simms weren't all that much better when the actual broadcast came back. And that's where this idea comes in: why not turn the whole thing over to someone else, someone you want?
It's a concept and platform I've hinted at a couple other times on this blog, but it's one I think could work for a particular set of users—that is, why aren't there more people out there providing alternative commentary for major sporting events? The concept isn't all that complicated, and with a great platform, it could work quite well.
The idea is that you have teams (or individuals) of sports bloggers, sports writers, fans, what-have-you with a platform for commentating live on a game. In an ideal world, this is plugged directly into your television, but for now it could take place on the tablet or mobile device you're using anyway during a broadcast. A quick note:
78% of second screen users during the Super Bowl chose a mobile device over desktop or laptop (via @datasift)— Darren Heitner (@DarrenHeitner) February 5, 2013
So let's lay out the requirements for such an idea.
- It would be a unified platform. It'd have both a mobile and web-based version for both broadcasters and viewers. Broadcasters would have the opportunity to air either audio or video. For users on the mobile experience, audio would always play in the background—enabling them to use other apps like Twitter and Facebook. They could then switch back to the video feed whenever they wanted, during commercials and such.
- Quick and easy calibration would be needed to sync the audio and video. Broadcasters would give a queue stating "when you see this on your TV screen, hit 'Sync'" and the audio would be set forward or backwards however many seconds are necessary.
- Broadcasters would have to refrain from giving a straight play-by-play, so as not to encroach on rights. Providing commentary is fine, and perfectly legal, but once users get into providing a complete alternative to the television-viewing experience, there's trouble. This could be reported and then monitored.
- Of course, there are adjustments outside the platform itself that would be necessary, or at least ideal. For example, it'd be nice if you could completely tune out the existing broadcasters in order to leave the game sounds live while still being able to listen to your chosen broadcasters. And oh wait, that technology happens to exist.
Now, if this really wanted to go to the next level, it'd be a white-label product that could be embedded and deployed elsewhere. CBS themselves could 'host' the platform and split any potential advertising revenue. The incentive for them is that they 1.) create a much more engaging and customized experience while 2.) reaching and connecting with a highly influential group (the crowd-sourced broadcasters) and 3.) incentivizing those broadcasters with a little bit of revenue and great exposure.
It would certainly take some work, and there'd have to be broadcasters willing to take up the cause, but we can't keep on with this status quo in broadcasting. The overall product is terrible, a net negative in many people's viewing experience, and it has the potential to be a lot more.